Interview by Jennifer Love Gironda
This story was originally published in Art Hive Magazine issue #30, Summer 2019.
Traci Young-Byron is the dance teacher I never had. Let me give you some background: As a child growing up in what is considerably more rural North Carolina, I always wanted to take dance. We didn’t have the money, and my mom didn’t have the time to get me back and forth to dance lessons while working at a factory full time. But in my heart I was always a dancer, and I would dance any chance I could. That was back in the heyday of MTV—watching those videos and dance shows was life. Sleepovers meant time to work on dance routines. I would dance outside for hours under the carport with friends, working feverishly on routines that no one was going to see but us. It wasn’t a total sad story though—I did get a chance to dance a little bit later in high school as a cheerleader, but not having a chance to grow up in that dance world is something I wish was part of my story. Especially when I see the choreography and love for movement that Traci Young-Byron possesses.
I was first made aware of the phenomenon that is ‘Supa BlackGirl’, ‘Supa TYB’ while watching my not-so-secret dance obsession, Bring It on Lifetime. Supa TYB and her Young Contemporary Dance Theatre (YCDT) dancers brought so much flair and sass to the Bring It battle floor that she earned her own eight episode docu-series, Step It Up, where viewers got an even closer look into the demanding training that takes place in her own YCDT dance studio. At that time I just thought she was an amazing dance teacher. I didn’t know that she was a member and co-choreographer of dance group, Fly Khicks—another show that I loved. I had no idea that she had numerous accolades as a college dancer and a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. I didn’t know that she danced for the Miami Heat for nine years, serving as team captain and assistant choreographer. And close to my own heart—I didn’t know she was an accomplished public school teacher and a complete fashion super star.
JLG: After a total loss of words, all I can say, quite simply, is—you are truly a force to be reckoned with! What traits do you feel have helped you to have such success?
The traits I believe contributed to my success are integrity, commitment, fortitude, creativity and faith. My mom, high school dance teacher, my sorority, and ability to be unapologetic played a major role in the development of these traits.
JLG: I read that you were born right here in South Florida in Liberty City. There was recently at documentary on Liberty City, Liberty, at the Miami Film Festival. What impact did growing up in Liberty City have on you as a person? As a dancer?
Growing up in Liberty City made me strong. My community forced me to learn perseverance and appreciate the little things. The culture in Liberty City is like none other. Growing up in Liberty City as a dancer gave me character—that is something special that most who never encountered such a place didn’t have. Combining the rawness of the hood and my classical training always made me stand out.
JLG: What is your earliest dance memory?
My earliest dance memories include training with legendary Lindy Hop pioneer Mama Lu Parks and traveling to Seville, Spain, and Morocco at the age of 12 for two weeks to dance and travel.
JLG: I read that you actually co-founded two collegiate dance groups, one at Florida A&M University and one at Florida State. What need did you see in the communities and how did these two groups fill that need?
My experiences as a director and choreographer started early on. While a dance major at The Florida State University, Millicent Johnnie and myself co-founded Phlava Dance Troop—a jazz and hip-hop based company. We felt compelled to expose the department to more than what was offered. In addition, Phlava aided as an outlet for self-expression.
JLG: You competed and co-choreographed for Fly Khicks on season three of MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew. What is one your favorite memories from that experience?
One of my favorite memories from season three of MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew is when we were in the bottom three and had to dance our way to safety.
JLG: You have been a collegiate dancer, professional dancer for the Miami Heat, and you continue to dance with your students. How do you stay in such physical and mental shape to continue to maintain the dancer’s active lifestyle?
I’m often asked how I do it all. Honestly, I don’t know. Wearing so many hats can be overwhelming at times but I always try to laugh. Laughing is good for the soul. A daily nap doesn’t hurt either, even if it’s just 45 minutes.
JLG: What is your mantra as a teacher/coach/choreographer?
Rule number one: The instructor is always right. Rule number two: When the instructor is wrong, refer to rule number one.
JLG: You do much more than teach dance. What are some of the other life skills that your dancers leave your studio with?
In addition to solid training, my dancers walk away more confident, focused, disciplined and hungry for success.
JLG: I wanted a chance to highlight some of the work that you and your dancers do in the local community. What are some of your most meaningful activities that you can share with us?
My company is an annual sponsor of the South Broward Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta’s 5k Run. In addition, my company offers financial aid to high school students as well as collegiate scholarships to graduating seniors.
JLG: You truly live for your students and openly celebrate their accomplishments, on and off the dance floor. Can you share a few of your recent ‘proud teacher’ moments with our readers?
My most recent “proud teacher moments” include alumna Yazzmeen Laidler becoming a member of the renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and alumni Keenan Washington joining the cast of Hamilton.
JLG: What advice can you offer people that love dance but don’t have any training?
My advice to those who love dance but lack training would be to take classes and train. Everything is at your disposal these days so there’s no excuse. With the rise of social media and YouTube, tutorials are everywhere. Attend as many auditions and workshops as you can. Even if the outcome isn’t successful, take something away from each experience.
JLG: What are some of your favorite collaborative moments?
Some of my favorite collaborative moments include collaborations with Ciara, Jamaica Craft, Polo Da Don and Fatima Robinson.
JLG: Do you have any future projects that you would like to mention?
I have a few projects that I’m considering however, I’ll keep them confidential until they manifest. My prayer is also for myself or my dancers to work on a movie.
Photos courtesy of Traci Young-Bryon (1st and 2nd Photo) and Ray Parris